Kris Jenkins of Villanova wasn’t about to be outdone.
Jenkins overcame the shock of watching North Carolina’s Marcus Paige hit a double-clutch 3-pointer to tie it by spotting up behind the right side of the arc and draining a 3 of his own at the buzzer to lift Villanova to a 77-74 victory and the national championship Monday night.
What a shot! What a game!
The second-seeded Wildcats (35-5) had a six-point lead with 1:52 left but watched it slowly trickle away.
Then it was gone. Paige jumped, and with Ryan Arcidiacono running at him, double-clutched and pumped one from beyond the arc to tie the game at 74 with 4.7 seconds left.
After a timeout, Arcidiacono took the inbound pass from Jenkins, worked the ball upcourt and got it back to the junior guard. He took two quick stutter steps and swished it from about two steps behind the 3-point line.
“Kris told him he was going to be open, Arch made the perfect pass,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “Kris lives for that moment.”
Jenkins’ range is anywhere in the gym, as he showed earlier in the tournament by nonchalantly draining a shot from the edge of the midcourt logo.
When this one went up, he never had a doubt.
“I think every shot’s going in, and this one was no different,” he said.
He finished with 14 points — the last three as memorable as any that have been scored in the history of this tournament.
After being thrown to the floor by his teammates, he got up, leaped over press row, hugged his family in the stands and shouted, “They said we couldn’t, they said we couldn’t, they said we couldn’t.”
Oh yes, they could.
This adds to the other title Villanova won in 1985, when Rollie Massimino, who was on hand Monday night, coaxed a miracle out of his eighth-seeded underdogs for a victory over star-studded Georgetown.
Hard to top this one, though.
Jenkins, who was adopted by the family of North Carolina guard Nate Britt, now has a spot with Keith Smart, Lorenzo Charles, Christian Laettner and anyone else who ever made a late game-winner to win a big one.
Paige finished with 21 for the Heels (33-7), the only No. 1 seed to make the Final Four, who came one agonizing shot short of giving coach Roy Williams his third national title.
The tears flowed from a coach who, some speculate, could have worked his last game on the sideline; the entire sports program at Chapel Hill is under NCAA scrutiny and awaiting possible penalties for a long-running academic-fraud case.
“I’m not very good because I can’t take away the hurt,” Williams said. “I told them I loved them. I told them I wish I could have helped them more.”
Even MJ felt the pain. In the stands with the thousands of Carolina Blue-wearing fans, Michael Jordan simply nodded, smiled, looked at his buddy Ahmad Rashad and said, “Good shot, good shot.”
High praise from the Great One. And what a night for Villanova, a team full of scrappers, grinders and also-rans who proved you don’t have to have a roster full of NBA-bound one-and-doners to win a title.
Before Jenkins did his thing, it was sophomore Phil Booth pouring in a career high 20 points to give the ’Cats their late six-point lead. Booth’s forced turnaround jumper and a Josh Hart free throw put Villanova up 70-64 with 1:52 left.
But Carolina never quits. Paige sandwiched a 3-pointer and a putback around a bucket from Brice Johnson (14 points, eight rebounds) to help the Tar Heels stay within striking range. Then, he tied the game and the UNC fans went wild.
Thanks to Jenkins.
“Every kid dreams about that shot,” Arcidiacono said. “I wanted that shot, but I just had confidence in my teammates and Kris was able to knock down that shot.”